SWIMMING DURING THE OFF-SEASON

Recently I was listening to a podcast where a triathlon coach suggested scaling back on swimming during the off-season. In contrast, I believe the postseason and winter months (for those in the northern hemisphere) are a good time of year to embrace swimming, particularly if you want to progress in your triathlon performances year over year. There are three key reasons:

  1. Easier to hit end of range training since you are generally carrying less fatigue
  2. Achieve central cardiovascular conditioning without musculoskeletal load
  3. You have the capacity to refine technique when not in race season

THE WEEK

With Purple Patch coached athletes, I always build the training week around two or three key sessions each week. These 'foundational' sessions always deliver the main focus of training stress for the athlete. These sessions are typically more challenging, either in duration or intensity and are also the prioritized, ‘unmissable’ sessions of the week.

THE WORKOUT

No matter the swim session, we always build workouts around a similar format. This allows preparation for the work ahead, time for any technical or speed work, and assuredness that you arrive to the main set focused and prepared to perform. In general, a flow for the workout is:

Warm Up: Very low stress preparation to 'do work'. Most athletes go too hard/fast in the warm-up; it should be very easy.

Pre-Main: The mission is to either allow readiness for the hard work ahead or focus on a specific skill or technique.

Between warm-up and pre-main sets, about 1/3 of your swim session is taken up.

Main Set: About 1/2 to 2/3 of the swim sessions will be the focused 'main set'. What is the primary purpose? Well, this is it right here!

Additional: We often add extra work at the end. This may be technique speed work or even very low-stress recovery or endurance-focused swimming that follows challenging main sets.

Easy versus Hard: You can only truly focus on some areas of technique when you are swimming easy but there are benefits beyond this. Going hard, when asked to go easy, will only lead to fatigue accumulation, compromised adaptations from the main work, and a lack of control in your overall training. No place is more important to go really easy than your warm up. Embrace easy swimming, especially in warm up, so you can nail the real intensity. With this, high-intensity matters. Triathletes do not benefit from a low-intensity approach to swim training. Almost every key session I coach includes some very high intensity that helps progress stroke rate, power, and maximal sustainable pace.

The benefit of short-interval based recovery: Completing 600, 800, 1000 straight will do little for amateur triathletes, except lead to slower stroke rate and low tension on the water. Instead, you will gain a better sustainable pace, closer to the technique (stroke rate and pull) we aim for, without losing any of the endurance gains we hope to achieve. Short intervals, with short rest, at an endurance intensity will deliver better results than simply swimming up and down, hoping to magically go faster. This is the only way to build endurance while improving stroke rate.

SWIM TOOLS

Tools are an important part of swim training for Purple Patch athletes. Below I outline the critical ones we use.

  1. Streamlines: Okay, this isn’t a tool but it is simple, effective, and worthwhile.  You never have better body position and posture than when you push off the wall. This means your initial few strokes have a chance to be optimal form.  We want to (ultimately) extend to the length of the pool.  This only occurs if we streamline well.  Push off 2 feet under the water, hard, with arms extended overhead.  You squeeze the ears and make it long and thin.  Check out this video to see what I am talking about, then make it a HABIT!
  2. Snorkel: One of best tools for a swimmer. Ensure you get the right type (in the video). These help you with great alignment and balance (laterally) of the stroke. They also are a tool for you to ‘see’ your hand entry and purchase/hold on the water and promote both proper head position and timing. The best ‘drill’ you can do.
  3. Band/Ankle Strap: Binding the legs together makes things tough, but once you get used to it, it promotes a real purchase/hold on the water, creates improved stroke rate and forces you to hold proper position. Some people simply fail with this. If you are one, then use a small buoy or take the ankle-strap off and simply point and touch your toes and prevent any kicking. Here’s a brief video.
  4. Buoy: A simple one. Good for body position and balance in the water. It isn’t a crutch, so don’t always swim with it to help with body position, as it will prevent the natural education of proper body position.
  5. Paddles: I have always pushed athletes away from paddles unless they are fast, but I have evolved this year and let almost all swimmers utilize them. The key place is to use them with band only or very fast swimming. Choice is essential.  Small Strokemaker paddles (or equivalent) are best but they must allow proper form and not force a slowdown in stroke rate. You must be able to maintain form and arm speed or the paddle size is too large. Their use can help with feel for the water, muscular endurance/power and feedback on the feeling of pushing water back.
  6. Fins: The primary use of fins is to provide a gentle lift of the hips and to promote body position but we also use them to help promote ankle mobility and propulsion.  

Ultimately, any tool should always be followed with regular swimming. We want to transfer the tool focus into real swimming. This only happens if you understand the goal and purpose of adding a tool, then aim to apply it to your actual swimming. Otherwise, they simply become crutches or anchors!

More Online Resources? Yes, I encourage you to listen to the Tower 26 Swimming Podcasts. About the best there is.

Of course, if you want to come along for the journey with Purple Patch and work on your swim during this time of year, take a look at our coaching options and prepare for your best season yet.

Cheers,

Matt